By Rob Potter
MONTICELLO March 16, 2001 Local and county officials and dozens of concerned residents packed the legislative room of the Sullivan County Government Center Monday night to learn more about the conversion of Route 17 to Interstate 86.
In the first of three planned public meetings this year, representatives from the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) and the engineering firm hired to examine Route 17 and evaluate its needs gave a brief presentation and answered questions posed by the local officials and residents.
David Ligeikis, the New York State DOT Regional Planning and Program Manager for Region 9, noted that the section of Route 17 from Corning west had already been upgraded to Interstate standards. He added that the timetable to upgrade Route 17 within Region 9 is five to seven years. (Route 17 runs through the DOT Region 9 counties of Broome, Delaware and Sullivan.)
Sear-Brown, a Rochester engineering and planning firm, was hired to examine the Route 17 corridor in Delaware, Sullivan and Orange counties. Over the past several months, Sear-Brown engineers have surveyed the road and all of its exits in the 106-mile distance from Exit 84 Deposit to Exit 131 Harriman.
We looked at a number of factors, including highway features, traffic and accident data and environmental features, said David Balthaser, a professional engineer with Sear-Brown.
Balthaser then outlined the findings. Among them is the fact that 60 percent of the existing interchange segments are closer than the recommended guidelines (interstate highway standards require exits to be at least one mile apart in urban areas and at least three miles apart in rural areas), one-third of the interchanges on Route 17 in this corridor are not fully-directional (having both on and off ramps in both eastbound and westbound directions) and of course, the 5.7-mile segment near Hale Eddy in Delaware County and the 2.9-mile Parksville segment here in Sullivan County do not have at-grade intersections with driveways and area roads.
In addition, several bridges in the corridor do not meet the interstate minimum clearance requirement of 16 feet.
Ligeikis pointed out that, while the Sear-Brown recommentations and the publics comments and concerns will be duly noted, the Federal Highway Administration in conjunction with the New York State DOT will make the final determinations on what changes and improvements will be made to meet the interstate standards which simply means that not every single recommendation made by Sear-Brown or the public will be implemented.
As Balthaser explained, a bridge that currently lacks only a few inches from meeting the 16-foot requirement may be left alone for the time being. Then at a future point, when it has been determined that the bridge is in need of repairs due to normal wear and use, the bridge could be raised to meet the height requirement.
During the question-and-answer period after the formal presentation, Balthaser was asked about exit closures in regards to the spacing requirements. He said that yes, exit closings were possible but stressed that it was only a possibilty and that currently no exits had been singled out.
Village of Bloomingburg Mayor Ronald Scott urged those involved in the project to keep the Burlingham exit, which is also known as Exit 115 and only serves westbound exiting and eastbound entrancing traffic, open.
Closing that exit would directly increase the traffic coming into Bloomingburg, Scott said. It would be an amount we cant handle.
In a related exit discussion, Sullivan County District 5 Legislator Rodney Gaebel reminded Balthaser that the legislature recently passed a resolution supporting the creation of an eastbound exit closer to Community General Hospital than the current Exit 102.
We have received feedback regarding that, Balthaser commented. We will be addressing that when we begin to look at alternatives.
Balthaser stressed that Sear-Brown and the DOT will be looking at many options to improve and upgrade Route 17 to the needed I-86 standards in the next two months. He added that the publics input is welcomed in that process.
A second public meeting is planned in May, with the draft of the corridor plan slated to be completed in June. A third public informational meeting to present the corridor plan is scheduled to be held in July, and the final plan is set to be given to the New York State DOT in August.
Balthaser urged members of the public who have further questions or comments regarding the Route 17/I-86 transformation to contact Sear-Brown and/or the DOT. The Sear-Brown phone number is (800) 724-4131 and the fax is (716) 272-1814. The mailing address is 85 Metro Park, Rochester, NY 14623.
Ligeikis and other Region 9 DOT officials can be reached at (607) 721-8118.